For the last 9 months, my wife, Allison, and I have been living out of nothing but our carry-on backpacks. We have no home or full-time jobs. So far we’ve traveled to 14 different countries and 18 states, and have somehow managed to not go completely broke!
The number one question we get asked when we tell people we’re full-time travelers is “how the heck do you afford it!?” The truth is, it’s complicated, messy and stressful but we wouldn’t change it for anything.
Before travel became our lifestyle, we always associated it with pricey vacations, and convinced ourselves that a nomadic life was only for the super wealthy. But once we really started studying our budget, we realized that most of our paycheck went to things like rent, utilities, eating out and shiny new toys.
Once you get rid of all these “necessities”, you can live on a lot less!
With that said, keep in mind that this isn’t a budget travel guide. There are a lot of things we’re still doing wrong financially. But we wanted to share our finances with you and give you an idea of what is and isn’t working, so hopefully you can learn from our experience!
How you can prepare for a life of travel
To make this full-time travel thing a reality, we had to make some big changes. Here are a few things we did to save money:
- Stopped eating out so much
- Stopped drinking so much
- Packed our lunches for work
- Ate breakfast at home
- Stopped going to the movies
- Allison stopped online shopping (which was extra hard since she worked for an online clothing company and got a sick discount!)
- I picked up a few side gigs to make extra money
- Built and sold some furniture – super random, but it was fun!
We put every extra penny into our savings account.
Then, we convinced a friend to let us sleep on his floor for a month for free while we got another friend to sublet our apartment (and watch our two cats, win-win!). This meant no more $1600 rent payment! This was also around Thanksgiving and Christmas, so our families happily let us visit (aka stay with them for free) through the end of the year. It certainly wasn’t the most glamorous 3 months of our lives, but we managed to save up a good bit of money.
$10,000 to be exact!
We ultimately put this money into an investment account as an emergency fund. It’s kind of crazy how much money you can come up with in a short amount of time if you really work at it!
So at the end of 2015, we officially said goodbye to our families, Allison left her job and we set out to see what adventures awaited us. For the first few months of our travels, we road tripped around the US with some friends and split gas and Airbnbs, which allowed us to live really comfortably solely on my salary. And we didn’t have to touch our savings!
This lasted until April 2016 when I scaled back my hours and we set sail (literally) for Europe.
With no full-time income, we really had to start tracking our spending!
How we make money while traveling
When we started our Endless Adventure, the goal was to work as little as possible so we could spend more time traveling, having adventures, writing blog posts and making fun YouTube videos. But travel can be really expensive, and we’re still figuring out new hacks and tricks for saving money (which we’ll share later on).
Most of our income currently comes from my contracting gigs. I do anything from app design, to web development, to marketing, to design mentoring. So far I’ve managed to put in just 2-3 hours a day (okay, sometimes more), and still keep our heads mostly above water.
Allison spends most of her time planning out and booking travel, working social media and blogging for The Endless Adventure and does a kick-ass job 😀 Ultimately, the goal is for The Endless Adventure to generate income of it’s own, so we look at the work Allison does as a bit of an investment.
We realize that not everyone can make money online the way we do. If you’re in that bucket, checkout the this guide from Wandering Earl where he shares tons of ways you can make money while traveling. The Broke Backpacker also has some great tips on how you can sustain a life of travel.
For the uber budget conscious, checkout Nomadic Matt’s ultimate guide to travel when you have no money. He traveled for a year straight for just $15k!
How much we spend, and what we spend it on
Everyone’s situation is different and it’s up to you to figure out what works best for your financial situation. That said, our hope is that by being transparent about our budget, you’ll be inspired with ideas for making long-term travel work for you!
We’ve been tracking our finances for the last 3 months (June – August). On average, we’re currently spending ~$4500 per month total. That’s roughly $27,000 each per year. Not so bad considering we’re traveling full-time!
Here’s what our average spending looks like:
- Transportation $1,270 – Planes, trains, buses, rental cars.
- Housing $1,034 – Airbnb’s, hotels, etc.
- Eating out $891 – We eat out a lot. Way too much actually.
- Groceries $346 – We try to eat a lot of meals at home.
- Electronics and household items $264 – Mostly camera equipment and soap.
- Entertainment $253 – Any activity that isn’t free – museums, movies, entrance fees, etc.
- Monthly services $188 – Phone bill, hosting, Spotify, etc.
- Beer $162 – We drink a lot of beer.
- Coffee $105 – We work in a lot of coffee shops so we buy a lot of coffee and tea.
As you can see, we spend the most money on transportation and housing. We move around a lot, averaging a week in each location, so this makes sense.
We’ve been trying to book shared Airbnbs with a weekly discount and take the cheapest forms of transportation (even if it means a 10 hour bus ride instead of a 1 hour flight). Unfortunately, fast travel is just inherently more expensive. But we can still do better!
Where we failed pretty hard was in our third highest category – eating out. This is something we struggle with a lot! Even though we typically book Airbnb’s with kitchens, we obviously don’t make full use of them. Plus, when we arrive in a brand new place, it’s just so tempting to head to a local restaurant or grab some delicious ice cream!
We’ve also been spending a bit of extra money to produce these fun food vlogs. They’re a blast to put together! But the food we try is sometimes expensive, so we try not to do them too often.
Tips for traveling on the cheap
As we mentioned, we’re not exactly proud of our spending so far. When we first set off on this journey, we planned on spending a lot less than this. Like $1500/month less. We worked hard to control our spending in August and I’m happy to say that we only spent ~$3000 for the entire month – our ideal amount!
Here are the most helpful tips we’ve picked up to travel the world for cheaper:
- Book shared Airbnb’s with a kitchen, and actually use them. And remember, booking for a week or month at a time often gives you huge discounts!
- For free accommodations, Couchsurfing is an amazing tool! You can also get some pretty sweet house and petting sitting gigs through sites like TrustedHouseSitters and MindMyHouse – all you have to pay is the application fee!
- Use travel comparison sites to find the cheapest form of transportation. We especially love Momondo for flights, Seat61 for trains and CruiseSheet for cruises!
- Research free things to do in each city before you arrive. We’ve had a lot of luck with TripAdvisor and simply searching “free things to do near….” on Google. And believe it or not, we sometimes just search a city on Instagram to find great place to go and fun things to do!
- Get a rewards card. If you don’t, you’re just leaving money on the table! Our favorite is the Capital One Venture Card. We’ve earned around $5000 in rewards this year alone thanks to this card.
- Travel slower. The less you move around, the less you’ll spend on transportation. Plus, you’ll have more time to enjoy your surroundings!
- Always research the cost of living of the place you’re thinking about visiting. You want to make sure your budget can handle it! Nomad List is our go-to for pricing out new places. You can also use Numbeo to get a sense of what things cost in the area.
These tips have already saved us thousands during our adventure, though we’re still by no means experts at budget travel. But we’re learning a lot and are excited to keep sharing our experience and new travel tips!
Hopefully sharing our finances has given you a peek into what it’s like to travel full-time. Keep in mind that this is just our situation. We know plenty of people who travel for next to nothing and others who only travel in luxury. We firmly believe that long term travel is possible for anyone, but it’s up to you to find out how to make it work! We’re still figuring it out ourselves 😀
Thanks for reading!